Sound of the waves, air filled aroma of food and people all around…the street food festival at Besant Nagar beach drew unprecedented crowds

A serpentine queue led to the ticket counter. If not for the humidity we would have thought we were outside the Louvre waiting for a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. But we were at ‘Enjoy Arusuvai Thiruvizha’ (EAT) at the Besant Nagar beach that was on till Sunday. Organised by the Rotary International District 3230 this street food festival had specialities from different parts of the country. “We organised this festival because we wanted a unique concept to create awareness about our key initiative Happy Village that works for sustained rural development,” said V. Raja Sreenivasan, district governor.

There was enough food to feed my battalion of perennially hungry friends and me. But the challenge was to get to the stalls before the others. The tickets were priced at Rs. 100 per head which was redeemable for food. There were 120 stalls and around 90 varieties of dishes that included vada pav, pessaratu, lassi, Ram laddu…

It was a festive atmosphere at the beach with numerous colourful tents put up. The usual beach warmers who sit and watch the sea, sand and sky occasionally biting into sweet corn were in for a treat. The beach was crowded more than ever and the road clogged with cars. The sands were almost invisible and all one could see was a sea of people. There were music performances that added to the ambience. “The event received 16,500 footfalls on Friday, 21,000 on Saturday and 27,000 on Sunday,” said Sreenivasan.

Most people had a determined look on their faces as they scurried about clutching onto their food tokens. Two steps ahead of us a group of young men were grumbling. “We bought entry coupons worth Rs. 100. So far we’ve only eaten dosas and when we went to the other counters the food was over. What do we do with our tokens now?” said one of them. That set us in a panic. Worried that there wouldn’t be any food left, we raced across to the nearest stallselling kotthu parotta. The queue was maddening. The men from our group were sent to do the task. Ten minutes later they returned. One of them was successful, while the other got tired and returned with just a bottle of water. The piping hot egg kotthu parottas was delicious. What next? Chicken tikka, perhaps? But it was impossible to break through that rush. Moving on we passed by quite a few empty stalls where people sat to enjoy their hard-earned meal.

There were boards with photos of Bengali sweets such as malpua and roshogolla, we passed by lassi, pani puri, gulab jamun, elai appam counters, and judging by the overflowing queues these seemed like the hot favourites.... It was 8 p.m. and the festival shut shop half an hour later. We meekly crawled out of the exit gate and ended up at one of the restaurants across the road, making do with a virulent blue milkshake instead. Some of our tokens were still unused. But that didn’t matter, after all it was for a good cause.